Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

By working on SIDS research at Children's, I have the opportunity to make a direct contribution to human health care — the reason I wanted to be a research scientist in the first place.

David Paterson, PhD, instructor in Pathology, Boston Children's Hospital

What you need to know about SIDS

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden death of an infant under 1 year of age that cannot be explained following a thorough case investigation that includes an autopsy, a death scene investigation and a review of the clinical history. The syndrome is sometimes called crib death, because the death is usually associated with sleep and often occurs while a baby is sleeping in a crib.

SIDS is the leading cause of postneonatal (1 month to 1 year of age) death of babies in the United States. Ninety percent of SIDS deaths occur within the first 6 months of life, with the rate peaking between 1 to 4 months. Death comes suddenly and unpredictably, usually during sleep. In most cases, the baby seems healthy before death. Currently, the cause of SIDS is unknown. The possibility of the syndrome affecting your baby is very frightening. But knowing more about it — and taking certain very specific precautions — can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS.

  • Risk factors for SIDS include:
    • placing a baby on his side or stomach to sleep, rather than on his back
    • premature or low birth weight babies
    • overheating the baby during sleep
    • sleeping on too soft a surface, with loose blankets and bumper pads
    • having a sibling who died of SIDS, or a family history of failure to thrive
  • While SIDS can affect any family, it often strikes babies whose mothers:
    • are under 20 years old when their babies are born
    • smoke during pregnancy
    • have received little or no prenatal care
  • Precautions that reduce the risk of SIDS include:
    • placing your baby on his back to sleep
    • using a firm sleep surface — a firm crib mattress covered by a fitted sheet is recommended
    • keeping the baby’s crib free of loose, fluffy blankets and stuffed animals
    • ensuring that your baby has a smoke-free environment
    • making sure your baby doesn’t get too hot while he sleeps
    • making sure the mother gets early and proper care while pregnant
    • breastfeeding the baby

See Diagnosis and Treatments for more precautions.

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches SIDS

All parents can significantly reduce the risk of SIDS by being informed about, and implementing, simple but specific risk reduction strategies.

And for younger parents, Children’s Young Parents Program (YPP) and the Children's Hospital Primary Care Center (CHPCC) provide quality medical care and health education to teen parents and their children in low-income and at-risk environments. We’re dedicated to helping young parents learn positive parenting skills, attitudes and behaviors so their child has healthy development and growth during the critical first years.

Children’s is also a world leader in SIDS research, investigating the key questions about this mysterious syndrome, including:

  • what causes SIDS
  • how to identify which babies are most at risk, and
  • why SIDS strikes boys more often than girls


Children’s Young Parents Program (YPP)

Becoming a parent is full of challenges, even in the best of circumstances. Those challenges are even greater for teen parents. Our Young Parents Program (YPP) is a special clinic dedicated to helping teen mothers and fathers from low-income and at-risk environments, since these young parents have the highest rates of pregnancies and the greatest risk of giving birth to babies with health problems. Our program includes doctors, social workers, nurses and nurse practitioners who have years of experience working with urban parents, adolescents and children.


Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Reviewed by David Paterson, PhD

© Boston Children’s Hospital, 2012